Child Abuse and Neglect Is for Real; Let's All Take a Stand

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Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Tina Morgan

Editor's Note: First of a four-part series

Shocking as it may sound, child welfare officials with the Oregon Department of Human Services in Lane County received 4,687 reports of suspected child abuse or neglect in 2009. According to the agency's records, 1,021 children were found to be victims of child abuse or neglect last year, and nearly half of these victims were 5 years old or younger.

Most people are surprised to see numbers like these in our own community. That's why this month is important.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Kids' Forensic Intervention Response & Support Team (Kids' FIRST) - along with the Lane County Department of Children and Families, Court Appointed Special Advocates of Lane County, and the Relief Nursery - have joined together with the help of DHS Child Welfare to provide you with a picture of child abuse in our community.

Child abuse is often more than the bruises and broken bones we can see. In Oregon, "threat of harm" is by far the largest category of abuse (49 percent), followed by neglect (32 percent). According to statute, threat of harm includes all activities, conditions and circumstances that place a child in danger of physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, mental injury or other child abuse or neglect. Threat of harm is a serious concern in Lane County, and here's an example:

A young mother gave birth to a child who was exposed to drugs during pregnancy. The mother admitted using methamphetamine during the first four months of her pregnancy. Although she is participating in some services, she refuses drug treatment and plans to continue living with her father who is recently off parole for the manufacture and delivery of methamphetamine.

The mother disclosed domestic violence by her boyfriend, who she names as the infant's father. The boyfriend has an extensive criminal history and a warrant for his arrest for a probation violation.

Last year, Oregon DHS found that the perpetrators of child abuse and neglect in Oregon were most often family members, making up 94.3 percent of all cases. Similarly, Kids' FIRST data collected in Lane County in 2009 indicate that 70 percent of perpetrators were family members, and the other 30 percent were individuals known to the family or to the child.

Suspects unknown to the victim accounted for only two cases in 2009, and only one in 2008. …